Steven Coogan and Michael Winterbottom’s fourth collaboration can be seen as a companion piece to 2002’s 24 Hour Party People; an unconventional biopic of a maverick who became a giant in his field, boasting a raft of British comedy favourites in cameo roles. The Look of Love focuses on Paul Raymond, who dominated the adult entertainment industry for three decades and whose shrewd property investments made him Britain’s richest man. The film portrays his rise to power, not shying away from the hedonism seemingly integral to these stories, whilst also exploring his personal life, in particular his relationship with his daughter Debbie.
Taken at face value the film is an entertaining, occasionally funny ride; Coogan is seemingly doomed to never escape the spectre of Partridge but his confidence and affability lend themselves to an engaging performance that carries the film through its rougher patches. The supporting cast are also adept, Tamsin Egerton making the most of a somewhat underwritten role and finding a charisma and lightness in keeping with the tone of the first half.
Imogen Poots is impressive as Debbie Raymond, a character that could easily come off as nothing more than a spoilt rich girl gone bad, but is instead a reflection of Paul’s various excesses, all of which paint him in a harsh light. The aforementioned cameos are a mixed bag; while the performances are decent it is hard not to be distracted by Stephen Fry popping up as a barrister or David Walliams as a vicar who acts as confidant to the girls in Raymond’s clubs, a potentially interesting character who lacks enough context for the audience to sufficiently believe in.
Unfortunately the film is hindered by its structure – the framing device involving the elderly Paul Raymond is completely pointless, and the messy editing and lack of context make it difficult to follow any sense of chronology or progression through history. The pacing is also a problem, as the free-wheeling second act, while enjoyable enough, offers little more than a string of montages and money shots of cocaine and naked models, a move which hurts the films climax. When the dark dramatic beats hit, they are either rushed over or, in one particularly egregious example, trivialised completely.
Whilst entertaining, The Look of Love feels like a missed opportunity for a real character study, the lightweight tone providing little insight for those not already acquainted with Paul Raymond’s story.